Progress Made on Aerial, Refugee Fronts
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 8, 1999 Operation Allied Force pilots flew more than 400 sorties April 7, attacking 28 targets in Serbia and Kosovo, NATO officials said, and the pilots had a "major breakthrough" in attacking Serb armored vehicles in the field.
"We were able to locate and attack several [Serb armored] units," said NATO spokesman British Air Commodore David Wilby during a news conference in Brussels, Belgium. "In one attack we were able to drop weapons on a column of between seven and 12 vehicles, with complementary visual evidence of success from the cockpit."
U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles F. Wald, vice director for Strategic Plans and Policy on the Joint Staff, said in an April 7 Pentagon news conference that the aircraft making the attack were Air Force A-10s, British Harriers and, for the first time, U.S. Navy aircraft from the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
NATO pilots continue to concentrate on Serb military forces, fuel, bridges and roads, command and control facilities and the air defense system. Pilots also attacked industrial targets that could be used to sustain military forces. "We are making every effort to minimize collateral damage," Wald said. "We look at every target with that in mind."
The Navy announced yesterday that the USS Nassau Amphibious Ready Group will remain on station in the Adriatic past its scheduled May 13 return home, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Mike Doubleday said. "I think there is an appreciation, certainly amongst the crews, that the operations that they're involved in are critical," he said. The group will continue to support the air campaign and will provide personnel to aid Kosovar refugees.
Progress has also been made on the refugee front. NATO forces in Macedonia moved around 35,000 refugees from makeshift sites on the border to tent cities constructed by NATO troops in Macedonia. About 1,000 members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit also arrived in Macedonia to help construct tent cities for other refugees. Wald said current estimates put the number of refugees in and around Kosovo at about 1.3 million since March.
Wald said the first of 20,000 ethnic Albanian Kosovar refugees will start toward Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba within the next few days. "We're ready right now to take 400 [refugees]," he said. "In the next week we think we can take about 1,700 to 2,000, and within 30 days about 10,000; then over a 30- to 60-day period, up to 20,000."
U.S. Southern Command has a team at Guantanamo Bay preparing a reception area for the refugees, Joint Staff officials said. All efforts are being made to keep families together during the process, they added.
At NATO Headquarters, spokesman Jamie Shea said the alliance has identified three mass graves in Kosovo from refugee reports. "NATO governments are trying to get more information on another 27 alleged incidents of atrocities," he said. There have also been reports of Serb forces using ethnic Albanian men as human shields.
Shea said NATO is solidly behind rejecting Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's offer of a cease-fire. "A cease-fire is, of course, necessary, but it is not sufficient," he said. "It cannot simply wipe the slate clean and take us back to the status quo ante, particularly as a cease-fire says nothing about the actions of those paramilitary units in Kosovo we believe are directly responsible for the systematic looting of homes, the burning of homes and forced expulsions of Kosovar Albanian civilians."
Shea said NATO leaders have put five key questions to Milosevic that were not answered in the call for the cease- fire: Is Milosevic set for a verifiable cessation of all combat activities and killings? Is he prepared to withdraw all military, police and paramilitary units from Kosovo? Will he agree to the deployment of a NATO-led security force? Will he permit the return of all refugees and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid? Is he prepared to put in place a political framework for Kosovo on the basis of the talks in Rambouillet, France?
"And so we very much hope that the next time President Milosevic gets back in touch, he will answer those specific questions," Shea said.
Until then, NATO attacks will continue, and they appear to be going very well. "From what I've seen in the reports, it's going along well," said the Joint Staff's Wald. "We are being successful at performing the military mission we've been given -- to degrade the [Milosevic's Yugoslav army and special police] capability ... .
"I think if you look at the array of targets and the amount of damage we're doing to his sustainment, his lines of communication, and his integrated air defense system and command and control, we are definitely degrading his capability. It's a matter of how much of that degradation he wants to sustain and how long it will take. But I would say it's going along very, very well."